LG Sargent in the 1966 Christadelphian Magazine (Vol 103, page 458–460), wrote a scathing letter to The Logos magazine editor following criticism of Sargent’s non literal approach to Genesis 1 (eg leaving the time in Gen 1 as an open question). Sargent was opposed to evolution, but clearly notes our community (historically at least) took on board the plain observations of science. He also noted Bro Thomas always accepted the earth had long rotated because of science. Sargent also restates Walker’s earlier observation that there is no evidence (and should be according to most literalists) of a cataclysmic end to life and a reboot some 6,000 years ago. 50 years later again we have South Australian demands on how Genesis and fellowship statements should be read (see here for a response to the IEAC statement). See below for the full letter from Sargent.To the Editor,
Dear Bro. Mansfield,
I have now received The Logos for May (English edition, August) containing on pages 328–330 an article headed “What do we Believe?” in which you criticize my editorial in the March Christadelphian. In this I believe you do me serious injustice by partial quotation. No one reading your article would imagine that the Editorial began: “I believe that the early chapters of Genesis mean that the first man and woman came into being by a special act of Divine creation, and that they are the progenitors of the race who are the subjects of God’s redemptive work. I believe that on this fact the Bible teaching on God’s redemptive purpose is based, and that the revelation through psalmists, prophets, Christ and the apostles rests upon it. It is therefore involved in later Bible teaching, and does not stand only upon our own reading of Genesis.”
Nor would they have imagined that it would have contained the following paragraph: “Yet creation, however, and whenever it occurred, remains unique and unrepeatable, and I do not believe that speculative attempts to reconcile the Bible with current scientific theory can ever be successful, or in the long run helpful to faith. However well meant and sincere, they may indeed make shipwreck of faith in more ways than one. If they prove inadequate—as in the end they must—they may increase doubt by taking away what seemed a prop, and leaving the structure shaken. Even more seriously, they may bring subtle changes in the faith itself by some adaptation to current philosophical outlooks which may be very much of the wisdom of man rather than the wisdom of God. It is difficult for those living in any one age to recognize how much their language and thought take on the colour of their own passing time.”
The remainder of the article is governed by the opening declaration and is consistent with it.
You criticize my comment on Genesis 2:7. The strictly literal sense of the words “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground …” would be that Yahweh Elohim in person descended to earth to mould a figure with His hands and blow into it. Such a view is satirized by Dr. Thomas in Elpis Israel, page 185 (1958 edition): “It is a part of the ‘strong delusion’ which has supplanted the truth, to suppose that the Invisible God left the throne of the universe on a visit to this region of immensity, where, like a mechanic building a house, He worked in creating the earth and all things therein. After this fashion He is supposed to have made man; and when His mechanism was complete, to have applied His mouth to his nostrils, and ‘breathed into him a particle of His own divine essence, by which he became a living and immortal soul’. Such a procedure on the part of the ‘Only Potentate’, whose abode is in the light, and whose servants, the Elohim, are innumerable, would have been unfitting His dignity and underived exaltation.”
If you say, as Dr. Thomas believed, that the making of man was the work of His angelic agents, the Elohim, then this is to apply to the words a measure of interpretation and not to take them in their most literal sense, the very ground on which you find fault with me.
Your facile antithesis that what is not literal must be figurative is misleading; scripture often provides brief statements which concentrate on the essential fact without indicating the mode of operation or even the time involved. Thus there are prophecies which comprehend both the first and second comings of the Lord, and strictly interpreted would be taken to refer to the same time. It is because Scripture so often declares causes and effects without elaborating means that I plead for some liberty of interpretation or at least a recognition that we do not know. That God can act instantaneously if He chooses, and did so at the Resurrection of Christ, is not in question; the evidence—Scriptural as well as scientific—is that that is not always the way He has chosen.
Dr. Thomas, himself a man of science, set an example in recognizing that there are scientific discoveries which are not to be denied. The opening words of Elpis Israel witness to his acceptance of the science of astronomy, stating things which are beyond natural perception: “Revolving upon its own axis, and describing an ample circuit through the boundless fields of space, is a planet of the solar system …” Early in chapter 2 he writes: “The Mosaic account is not a revelation to the inhabitants of other orbs remote from the earth of the formation of the boundless universe; but to man, as a constituent of the terrestrial system. This will explain why light is said to have been created four days before the sun, moon and stars. To an observer on the earth this was the order of their appearance: and in relation to him a primary creation, though absolutely preexistent for millions of ages before the Adamic era. The duration of the earth’s revolutions round the sun previous to the work of the first day is not revealed; but the evidences produced by the strata of our globe show that the period was long continued.”
Dr. Thomas, therefore, interpreted Scripture in the light of facts of both astronomy and geology. I ask only for a similar freedom, and, while acknowledging to the full the dangers of human theorizing, for the recognition that genuine scientific discovery did not stop at a hundred years ago.
May I also quote an esteemed predecessor as Editor of The Christadelphian, the late bro. C. C. Walker, who in his book The Word of God (1926) wrote: “The appearance of herbage naturally preceded that of the creatures which fed upon it. Some of their fossil remains have even contained herbal remains within the wreckage of their gigantic ribs, strongly suggesting some primeval cataclysm in which the great beasts suddenly perished. It will be perceived that this view regards the third day as ages before the creation of man, and the cataclysm in question as of incalculable antiquity. It is very evident from geloogy that such upheavals have been many in earth’s remote past, but there does not appear to be any evidence at all that some six thousand years ago an existing cosmos was reduced to such a chaos as is described in Gen. 1:2.”
Thus, forty years ago, a brother of profound belief in inspiration and the utmost integrity in interpretation, was prepared to recognize an alternative to a literal belief in a six day creation. I am not, therefore, introducing a novelty when I leave the time involved in creation as an open question.
Without following further into the details of your criticism, I hope I have said enough to put my position in a truer perspective, and to show that, while pleading for some liberty of interpretation I am firmly opposed to following “every wind of doctrine”. In particular, I affirm my belief in specific and successive creative acts of God, and repudiate the conception of continuous development of life through all its species (see Christadelphian, April, page 174).
I ask that, in fairness, this letter should be published in The Logos in full and without deletion, that any comment you may wish to make should be deferred to the end, and not interspersed within it.
Sincerely your brother in Christ,